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Such rates put even the most enthusiastic participants on a par with workers in developing economies. Today, many Mechanical Turk users are students or housewives – but who’s to say participants in the future won’t be Vietnamese workers looking to earn a few hundred dong on the side?

“We are gathering demographics now on the provider base, and it seems that a lot of the people that are frequenting the [Mechanical] Turk are work-at-home moms, students, and foreigners,” says David Pfeiffer of DPA Software, a four-person “virtual” company in Waukesha, WI, that’s designing interface tools to make creating such applications feasible for the nontechnical user. “It seems like we’re heading toward a workforce that may not have a singular expertise, but just a general human response,” Pfeiffer says.

With time, however, Pfeiffer sees [Amazon’s] platform as a qualification service for project managers seeking out talented minds. Unlike rival services, such as Google Wizard, which lets responders work their way up through a customer satisfaction system, Amazon’s Mechanical Turk gives project managers the freedom to make their own assessments based on response latency and response quality. For that reason, the next upgrade of Pfeiffer’s main product, HitBuilder, will include grading and ranking features, so that companies can have a better sense of who is supplying the best information.

“Right now [requesters] are having to lowball their hits, because the talent variation is so high; they have to get three or four or five people just to make sure they get a good answer,” Pfeiffer says. “Once you work qualification into the process, you make it easier to boost quality. That’s a software value we’re looking to add.”

Chris Law, founder and vice president of Aggregate Knowledge, a San Francisco company looking to help small online companies exploit the Amazon-style recommendation process “within a day,” are gushing over the concept.

“I think Amazon really got it right,” Law says. “One thing I hate is doing the repetitive stuff…I’ll pay somebody to do it for me. I see [Amazon’s Mechanical Turk] ending up being a reverse eBay: you want to get something done, so you say, ‘Here’s my price.’”

Caption for home-page image: A picture of The Mechanical Turk, an 18th-century device that could supposedly play chess, but which actually had a person hidden inside it.

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